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Kind, Mischievous, Fun - Peter Archer Remembered

by Bob Funkhouser

When you talk to people about the late Illinois horseman Peter Archer, an array of adjectives are given to describe the husband to Cindy, father to Megan and friend to many. Archer, 56, died Sunday, May 25, having just returned from the Madison Classic show in Wisconsin. His death ended a lifelong battle with health problems which began when he was diagnosed as a diabetic as a boy.

It was that illness that led to his life of horses, however. He started taking riding lessons as a way to deal with the fate he was given. Soon the whole family took an interest and began showing.

Archer and his brother Bobby shared Our Best Bourbon, a.k.a. Bones, in the gaited and later the pleasure division. His mother, Florence Merkin, has enjoyed a long career in the ring which continues today.

When Archer went to college he took "Bones" with him and boarded him at Bob Johnson’s Hilltop Stables in Bloomington, Ill. Spending more and more time at the barn, Archer eventually dropped out of college to become a professional horseman.

That association with Johnson proved to be a good one as they trained, showed and sold many top horses including Starheart’s Secret Romance, Tin Lizzie, Cherry Rebel, Spring Valley’s Enchanted Evening, Travel Agent, Town Belle, Syncopating Sultan and the road horse Minute Man, to name a few.

Sally (McCue) Grieme and Barbara (Slane) Bacon were customers at Hilltop Stables during that era and they share lots of fond memories.

"My parents didn’t want me to have a horse when I started college but when I went, I drove past Hilltop Farm, saw they had Saddlebreds, zipped right in and the next day bought a horse named Travel Agent that I showed in pleasure," laughed Grieme. "The thing about those two is that we had fun! That was their whole philosophy. The way they looked at it was, ‘You can’t control if someone has a nicer horse and you can’t control if a judge doesn’t like your horse but you can control whether you have a good time or not.’

"Peter was a perpetual kid. He was very mischievous and we were always getting in trouble. We went to all the little shows, many times showing out of a trailer and we had a blast.

"Once he broke his ankle and was in the hospital and I went to see him. He said, ‘Sally, the food is terrible here, you’ve got to break me out.’ I told him I couldn’t do that but he kept asking. Finally, he told the nurses that he couldn’t get any rest with all the people coming in and out of his room and would they please leave him alone for a few hours. They did, and we snuck out, went to dinner and snuck back in. Those days were priceless."

Following the death of Johnson, Archer opened his own barn and for the past 21 years, Archer Stables has continued to produce top horses for customers, many of whom were with him for many, many years. Dr. Jane Keil, Cindy Wright, the John Lawton family, Alan Blessman, Jean Slane and Dr. Mary Jensen have been among those who benefited from Archer’s talents with a horse.

"He had such a quiet way with a horse," said his widow, Cindy. "Peter could clip any horse without a twitch, load any horse, he really could communicate with a horse. I never saw him hit one."

Among the stars that have represented Archer Stables are Preferred American, Hit The Lights, John Galt, Dynamint, Diamond Merchant, General Spirit, Wild Blue, Hollywood Electra and Harlem’s C My Radiance, among others. He also put a long list of amateur and junior exhibitors into the ring over the past two decades.

"He was such a nice man," said Lynda Freseth. "It’s hard to believe he was just here at the show."

According to his wife, Cindy, that’s exactly how he would have wanted it. The horses were his life.

"He loved training horses and he loved animals in general," said Cindy. "Pete was also quite an ice skater. We used to laugh that we had to be the only two people in America who were big fans of both competitive ice-skating and bull riding. They are such opposites but we loved them both. Of course, Pete was always for the bull."

Daughter Megan is going to keep the barn going through the show season before she heads to pharmacy school.

"The customers want to go to Louisville so Megan is going to keep it going, then she’s going to get her education and become an owner," said Cindy with the smile of a loving mother. "We do have a yearling that Pete picked out and we’re going to keep him for Megan to start and work. His name is Commodore’s Cooper and he has old bloodlines. Hopefully this colt will be Pete’s legacy."

Peter Archer died doing what he lived for. Horses and horse people made life worth it, while dealing with health issues all along the way. Most importantly, he made those around him happy with their horses.

"He was just a cool guy to know," said Sally Grieme. "He never, ever said a bad word about anyone. Peter was very kind hearted, very gentle."

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